When I was a child, cable television was in its infancy, and if you wanted to watch cooking shows, you had to rely on your public television affiliate to carry them. I don’t remember how old I was when I started watching shows like Yan Can Cook, The Frugal Gourmet, Graham Kerr’s Kitchen and the like, but watch them I did, usually on my mother’s portable black and white television. I loved listening to the chefs talk about the histories of the food they were preparing. “Cooking show” was one of my favorite games to play with my sister and I’m sure we whipped up some masterpieces in our play kitchen.Yesterday we celebrated the centennial of Julia Child’s birth and during my childhood she had already attained status as a pop culture icon and The French Chef was already in syndication. She was considered the mother of cooking shows, and I owe my fascination with this type of television to her. I don’t remember specifically watching her show, but I’m sure at some point in my viewing I came across the 6’2″ tall dynamo who was determined to bring authentic French food to American kitchens. As I watch re-runs of her later shows now, I can see how Ms. Child’s deep passion and respect for the finer things in life shaped her success as a television chef. She was born into a well-to-do family, but I think she felt that anyone can have a taste of the good life if they’re patient and strong enough to try something new. Before she demystified French cuisine, it was something the average American housewife wouldn’t have tackled. Soon, with Ms. Child’s tutelage, the exotic and intimidating became familiar and accessible, due as much to her engaging persona as to her detailed instructions. At a time when women who had entered the work force were feeling pressure to be perfect wives, mothers and employees, Julia Child taught us that it was ok to make mistakes and when we did it was ok to make spectacularly inelegant ones.
Julia Child was one of the country’s first celebrity chefs, though she hated fame and never gave anyone permission to use her name for marketing the way chefs do now. I have a feeling she would be appalled at the mockery Food Network makes of chefs and cooking today. the channel’s obsession with catchphrases, shrill hosts, glitzy sets and reality shows is the reason I have once again returned to public television for my cooking show fix. occasionally I come across one of her shows from the 1990’s, and even in her 80’s she was tackling even the most complicated dishes and giving us reason to believe we could too. She’s got me (almost) convinced that I can make an omlet without slinging eggs across the kitchen, and I feel as if there’s nothing terribly difficult about making French food, even if it does take a while to prepare some things. Thanks to Julia Child, I know that all it takes to create a gourmet meal is the willingness to try something new, the patience to keep at it when mistakes are made and the ability to laugh at yourself when you get pancakes stuck to the ceiling. Thank you, Ms. Child, for helping so many of us find the courage of our convictions when it comes to creating art in the kitchen.
“when you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions” Julia Child, 1912-2004